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Richie Hawtin Made a New Mixer So We Asked Him a Bunch of Nerdy Questions

The Canadian techno pioneer talks about the Model 1 and weighs in on the CDJs versus laptops debate.
June 8, 2016, 6:48pm
All photos courtesy of Daily Vice

A small crowd of gearheads and technophiles squeezed into the Toronto location of Moog Audio last week to hear Canadian minimal techno icon Richie Hawtin talk about the new Model 1 DJ mixer, which he developed with renowned British designer Andy Rigby-Jones. The mixer is the first product to come from the duo's new PLAYdifferently line, and they seem to be taking their brand name very literally.

Rather than the digital effects and connectivity that's increasingly standard on new mixers, the Model 1 is completely analog. They've also put filters where you'd expect conventional EQ controls, and taken a very unique approach to frequency sculpting. Other innovations include two separate headphone systems to facilitate tag team DJ sets, and an overdrive circuit to help thicken unmastered tracks.

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THUMP sat in on the workshop and spoke to Hawtin afterwards about how technology has progressed throughout his career, his thoughts on laptop DJs, and more.

THUMP: Why did you finally decide to make a mixer?
Richie Hawtin: When I look back and I try to remember what originally got me into this whole scene, it's hard for me to decide if it was music or if it was technology. I grew up with my dad playing Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk while I was in the womb, and at the same time he was taking apart reel-to-reels and making computers. It was always wrapped together.

So at this point in my career, to be still balancing those two things is really important to me. I'm a musician and a performer who uses technology, buttons, knobs, and interfaces to unleash something. If I can be part of that development, and create something that may help me interface with technology in a new way, it's really exciting.

What kinds of mixers did you use at the beginning of your career?
My first sets were around 89 or 88, and at that point I was on a Numark mixer. That was kind of the standard in Detroit around that time, and that's because it had a five-band EQ. I used to see Derrick May and Jeff Mills use that to bring up the mids, then drop the highs and lows, and really carve the sounds. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. I think that demonstrated to me that one philosophy of DJing was to just give a fuck. Bang this track out, change it, mutate it, and make something happen. Let's make this record sound like something else. That's what led me into using effects and drum machines, and even to developing the Model 1.

Where did idea for the unique approach to the EQ come from?
Andy Jones and I were talking for years about what we would do if we designed a mixer together. We always ended up getting to the point of: how can we mix differently? How can we make something that's smooth, but that also can focus in on a specific frequency, and that really became what the setup is now. The smoothness of the filters are nearly like an old house mixer like a UREI, but the parametric sweepable EQ is quite nerdy and techno. When you bring those things together, it's quite interesting.

Given your history as a laptop DJ pioneer, why keep the Model 1 all analog?
The analog and digital debate is definitely something that I've thought about a lot. I play digitally, and it's different than playing on turntables, but I like it. It allows me to be creatively stimulated and do things that just weren't possible with two or three turntables. But when it comes to bringing all those frequencies together, at the moment most sound systems in clubs are analog, so we felt it was best to mix it all in the analog domain and then send it out to the systems from there.

Digital consoles in studios are absolutely incredible now, but the DJ market seems to use digital as a way to either offer lots of bells and whistles, or as a way to keep prices down. This isn't the right or the wrong way, it's just another way.

You chimed in recently about a Los Angeles club banning laptops from their DJ booth. Why do you think DJs are still being shamed for using computers in 2016?
The funny thing about digital DJing these days is that you either have a computer, or you have a CDJ, which is really just an integrated computer with a screen and everything. But one is supposed to be better than the other? We should be above that. Each interface has a different feeling, a different texture. One thing that feels good for me may not feel good for you. I think it's really dangerous to start telling people that one way is better than the other.

It's electronic music, and one of the incredible things about getting involved with it in the beginning was that there was really no right and wrong. And as it's become bigger, and the scene has become wider, in a way the definition has become tighter. You should respect the roots and understand the roots, but also throw them away if you want. Find your own path.

Benjamin Boles is on Twitter.